Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Seeds on Sundazed and other Record Store Day Scores

By Doug Sheppard

Like the authorities catching up to the protagonist in a biker exploitation film, time had caught up to Sky Saxon in 1970. Between Altamont, harder drugs and the frowning faces of war protestation, there was no room for the Seeds’ idealism and – if analogies are in order – the times had indeed spoiled Sky’s fun. Rock was now serious, like really serious, man – discovering all kinds of wimpy folk, phony roots, long solos and (thanks to Woodstock) corporate influences. Sky was Davy Crockett at the Alamo – or rather, a rocker past him prime getting laid a lot at his Malibu home. But it didn’t mean he didn’t have one last charge in him.

Calling on old keyboard sidekick Darryl Hooper, plus three new members, the re-sprouted Seeds departed GNP Crescendo for MGM and recorded two killer singles that sadly never made it past the promo stage, falling into permanent rarity status and never getting a legit reissue – until now, thanks to Sundazed and Record Store Day.

The Seeds’ first MGM offering, “Bad Part of Town” b/w “Wish Me Up,” paired a biting fuzz rocker with a more flowery, keyboard-dominated number that harked back to the band’s later GNP material. It was the heavy influence of “Bad Part of Town” that would propel the even better followup, “Love in a Summer Basket” b/w “Did He Die.”

In spite of its title, “Love In a Summer Basket” isn’t so much a floral excursion as it is a tidal wave of loud fuzz guitar squalls crashing the shores of idealism as keyboards and flute weave in and out. Perfection. And if that trip isn’t bad enough, then the war-torn flip of “Did He Die” – rumbling bass, screeching guitar distortion and all -- blurs visions even more, as Sky lets the Vietnam anxiety out by screaming “He shot him in the head! He killed his bro-ther-ah-ah-ah-ah” without fear of pushing too hard.

But when MGM President Mike Curb purged his label of acts with drug influences (like the Seeds) just two days before its release, he denied the world what would undoubtedly have been the finest Seeds album yet. (The Seeds would go on to make one more great indie single the next year, “Shuckin’ and Jiving” b/w “You Took Me By Surprise,” two barnstorming rockers that up the heavy ante even more.)

This Sundazed gatefold double-single set not only replicates the sound of the originals thanks to use of master tapes, but also offers a great essay by Seeds scholar Jeff Jarema that finally reveals the names of the other musicians (outside of Saxon and Hooper) on the MGM sessions, plus some really cool vintage photos. File under “must have.”

Speaking of screaming punks, Sundazed has unleashed another punk killer among its RSD releases, the lasciviously lustful “Lorna” by Adrian Lloyd. Busting and burning the surfboards he brandished in the Rumblers and the Sunsets, Lloyd unloads a torrent of tribal drums, snotty vocals and screams (“approximately 25,” sez Jarema in the liners) for a rightly regarded classic getting its first reissue on a seven-inch. Possibly (and if so, justifiably) winded, Lloyd is a little more restrained on the B-side, “Got a Little Woman,” a groovy rocker with “woah yeah” call-and-answer vocals that’s pretty cool in its own right.

No discussion of screaming rock ’n’ roll would be complete without the Trashmen, who rode it into the Top 10 with the infamous Rivingstoned rant “Surfin’ Bird” in 1963. By 1966, the hits had dried up, the British had come, and a trip was about to be taken, but the Bird men defiantly stuck to rock ’n’ roll -- as evidenced by the live versions of “Mean Woman Blues” and “Big Boss Man” on this RSD single on Sundazed, which has done more than perhaps anyone else in spreading the Trashmen gospel.



Sundazed head Bob Irwin’s other employer, Legacy, also did some great releases for Record Store Day – the best unquestionably being the 180-gram vinyl reissues of the mono mixes of three vintage Miles Davis albums: ’Round About Midnight, Milestones and Someday My Prince Will Come. Housed in sharp reproductions of the original covers, the sound emanating from the grooves is nothing short of stunning – presenting the material with a clarity that almost feels like being in the studio with Miles, John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones and (on Milestones) Cannonball Adderly.

Much has already been written about Miles’ first and third Columbia offerings, ’Round About Midnight and Milestones, respectively, what with the all-star lineup and groundbreaking evolution of hard bop into modal jazz – not to mention classics like the rearranged version of Monk’s “ ’Round Midnight” on the former and the swinging title track of the latter. So that leaves the mono vs. stereo question and, to these ears, much as I enjoyed the stereo CD remasters, the more intimate sound of the mono mix is preferable.

Released on the heels of two landmarks, Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain, Someday My Prince Will Come was bound to suffer in comparison. But it’s a fine album in its own right, thanks to all of the Kind of Blue lineup save Adderly and Bill Evans -- although here the mono mix is more of an alternative for collectors.

Legacy has also given us 10 inches of previously unreleased Sly and the Family Stone at their peak, including “Music Lover/I Want to Take You Higher/Music Lover” from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, the rare promo-only single version of “Higher,” and a TV medley of “Sing a Simple Song/Hot Fun in the Summertime/Sex Machine/I Want to Take You Higher” from 1969. Nice to have, but the best news is the insert in this I Want to Take You Higher EP noting the upcoming release of a four-CD Sly box set with rarities and 18 previously unreleased tracks.



Black Friday has become to Record Store Day what Labor Day is to Memorial Day – and spotlighted some worthy limited editions of its own the last time around, including a self-titled 12-inch four-song EP by Eric Burdon & the Greenhornes on Readymade. Old-meets-new affairs usually signify guest appearances on remakes, so I’m pleased to note that this is not only all new songs -- but the best music that both Burdon and the Greenhornes have made in years. Hard rockers (“Black Dog,” not the Zeppelin or even Timebox track), slow blues (“Out of My Mind”) and flat-out rockers (“Can You Win”) fire up a package that makes one wish for a full-length. Age can be detected in the old Animal’s voice, incidentally, but like the bluesmen he’s long idolized, it’s fine seasoning, not wear.

Also worthy of investigation is Secret Stash’s single by the Prophets of Peace, “P.O.P” b/w “46th Street Bump Time.” From the same 1974 session that produced one side of their lone single (included on Twin Cities Funk & Soul, reviewed in the upcoming issue) comes this previously unreleased pairing of two fine Tower of Power-styled horn soul groovers: a vocal number on the top side and an instrumental on the flip. Limited to 500 copies.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Record Store Day Rebuttal

By Doug Sheppard

You would think that if an otherwise struggling retail sector were reinvigorated at least twice a year by a self-conceived holiday that spurs more in-store traffic and sales, it would be celebrated by consumers and retailers alike. You would think. But proving that the High Fidelity stereotypes of cantankerous record store clerks and narrow-minded collectors are nonfiction, the onslaught of cynicism about Record Store Day is in full swing in the blogosphere -- supposedly providing a bit of levity to us fools who actually enjoy it every year.

The critics -- who I’m not going to single out in the interest of not starting a pissing match -- have a few legitimate points. It may indeed be a last gasp for most record stores rather than a rebirth, some releases take “limited edition” to idiotic extremes, and it unfortunately does shut those without access to a record store out of the process.

The majority of the anti-Record Store Day arguments, however, are just silly. Addressing a few of them one by one:


   “They’re creating artificial rarities that end up on eBay.” Yes and no. Some will start off at premium prices and stay that way. A more discerning (and patient) consumer, however, will note that prices of the vast majority of titles will rise briefly in the ensuing weeks, then fall back down to the original retail tag within a month or so. Copies of many even remain in record stores for weeks or even months after Record Store Day. Finally, did it ever occur to those leveling this charge that many of these items are of only limited interest, hence only worth pressing in limited quantities? It’s wonderful to demand universal access, but someone has to pay the bill.

   “These are fetish objects that probably won’t be played regularly.” Fetish objects in a collecting field? Whoever heard of that? Record collectors buying more than they can listen to? Another phenomenon I’ve never heard of. In all seriousness though, why should anyone care what happens to items after they’re sold?

   “Many RSD customers don’t return.” Assuming it’s not hostage takers laundering ransom money, why should anyone care who’s buying the records if you’re turning a profit? Even if Record Store Day adds only a few new customers, that’s more than the store had before -- and probably more sales as well. I mean, the goal of any retailer is to make money and stay in business, right?

   “RSD is not about building a community.” OK, maybe it is my turn to be a cynic. “Building a community” in a record store sounds like pretentious indie rock horseshit to me. I go to record stores to buy records. Sure it’s nice if the clerk is knowledgeable and/or friendly, but mainly -- I want to browse and buy stuff. Why else would I be there? The coolest record stores aren’t the ones with “community,” but the ones with the best records/prices. Besides, if that is your goal, community can be created whenever people are together -- including on Record Store Day. (Just beware of including in your community those horrible people who only play their RSD purchases once.)


Those who conceived Record Store Day are to be commended. With the decline of tangible formats, someone had to do something to generate a buzz and business -- and, judging by the long lines, they’ve succeeded. Even critics would have to acknowledge that the alternative -- doing nothing -- would have been much worse. Plus, similar to CD revolution, many RSD titles may not have otherwise seen release/reissue. Vanguard, for example, had been sitting on its psychedelic vaults for years before RSD finally inspired the Follow Me Down double-LP comp in 2011.

But beyond all of that, no one is forcing any consumer or retailer to participate in Record Store Day. You don’t like it? Don’t do it. I won’t judge you as long as you don’t judge those of us who have a good time.